Monday, October 8, 2012

Thoughts on the Upcoming Fast at Encounter Life

For those of you who have been at Encounter Life the last few weeks this won't be new, I just hope it's an encouragement. For those of you who haven't been there the last couple of weeks, this may be new or it may just be the information you've been looking for!
I've spent the last two weeks asking us as a church to consider participating in a 40 day fast based on Chris Seay's book entitled "A Place at the Table". This is not a "water only" for 40 days fast, but rather it's a "consider your portion size and eat a diet similar to those who are less fortunate" fast. I know this seems a bit ambiguous and I really meant for it to be that way. My hope is not to create a list of legalistic rules for you to follow, but rather for you and/or your family to evaluate and discuss the best way for you all to participate in a way that glorifies God and serves others.  Over the last couple of weeks, I've thought of a few things for you to consider that might make you and/or your family prepare to get the most benefit out of the fast. In no particular order, here they are:

  • For the "rule followers" this is probably particularly difficult because it isn't spelled out exactly. The fast isn't designed to put a weight around your neck and drag you down, but to free you to honor Christ in your effort to sacrifice as you serve others. My encouragement for you would be to talk as a family and develop a plan and aim to stick to it. Perhaps, if you have kids, you don't make them fast at breakfast or lunch while they're at school, but they participate in the fast by eating healthy snacks, not drinking super sugary drinks and eat whatever the rest of the family has for dinner.
  • For those who might be thinking "I'm free because of God's grace, I don't need any rules", you're right, but practicing spiritual disciplines is a great way to worship God. Perhaps for you this process might help you sacrifice some of your freedom for the glory of God and for others good. As you do this, perhaps you'll be able to better understand that Jesus was willing to put on flesh, be under the law, walk in perfection and still be crucified for other people's sin. His death was for the glory of the Father and the redemption of others. That's the greatest sacrifice ever. Use this time to enjoy some time with your family encouraging them to consider what Christ has done to make your freedom possible.
  • The only "rules" that exist are really the dates. The fast begins October 14 and ends on November 22, which is Thanksgiving. One of the unique aspects of this fast is that Sundays (including Oct. 14) and Nov. 22 are feast days. On those days, you're free to enjoy whatever you want. 
  • Ok, maybe another "rule" would be that we're providing you with a copy of "A Place at the Table" at some point each day, you should read the day's reading together. 
  • You might be wondering how "forceful" you should be with your children who are very young and don't yet understand the gospel or with children who are unbelievers. For young children, go at a pace that works for you. You can probably make some healthy snack choices and if they eat what you eat for meals that might work, but don't feel like your life has to be miserable for the next 40 days because your child doesn't like refried beans. For the child that may be old enough to really understand the gospel but isn't yet following Christ, I'd encourage to give grace. Encourage them to participate with you, pray for them, tell them you're praying for them, be humble, use the fast to teach them the gospel. If they refuse to do the fast, model sacrificial behavior as best you can by maybe providing an alternative meal option, and invite them again each week to join you. Above all, try not to get frustrated with them, love them, pray for them, ask God to help you model the gospel by serving them and pointing them toward Christ. 
  • I've asked you to consider the amount of money you usually spend on groceries. If you're eating smaller portions, only what you need, not what you want, then you'll probably save some money. You might be wondering what to do with that. Remember, I want you to consider doing an Operation Christmas Child shoe box (which will be brought to the church in early November) and adopt an angel through the Angel Tree program (which we'll partner with Westwood Elementary). You won't give the money to the church or anything like that, just invest in these areas. 

My prayer is that if you're still on the fence about what to do or if you aren't sure if you want to participate you'll consider Christ and his love for you and that it would stir your affection for him and give you a desire to serve others. We're a blessed people and I pray through this fast we'll begin to understand just how true that is and we'll more effectively use our resources for His glory as we worship him. My desire for this time together is "whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Corinthians 10:31) May we exalt Christ and more fully understand the reality of his sacrifice for us.

Feel free to let me know if you have any more questions or how I can pray for you or your family through this time together. I'd love to know what your thoughts are leading up to the fast.

In my life, Lord, Be Glorified...

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trying vs. Training

It's Olympics time again! I'm always fascinated by athletes as they push their bodies to the max, exerting all of the energy they have trying to win. I often wonder what goes into preparing for an event. As a kid, I was always told, "If at first you don't succeed try, try again." This always seemed like good advice until recently. There are lots of things I can try to do, but if I never train for them I'll never accomplish them.
For instance, there's some amazing athletes that run very well! I have a friend who is now running half marathons. That sounds exciting to me. I've often thought, "I'd like to try that." However, on the day of the race, if I just show up, without training for it, I can try all day long and all that will happen is that I will eventually reach exhaustion because my body isn't ready for an intense race. But, if I began slowly and trained, I would eventually be able run a 5k and then work my way up to 10k and eventually, I could be running with my friend in half marathons. For this to happen, I have to do the hard work at the beginning of becoming disciplined, focusing on the goal and striving toward it.
We do the same thing with our faith. We all know people that are quite strong in their faith in Christ and we think, "I'd like to be like that," and we tell ourselves to try harder! The fact of the matter is that trying harder isn't the problem that is keeping us from growing in our faith. We aren't growing because we aren't training. Many people are trying really hard and giving up everyday because they're tired and nothing is working the way they had hoped. They feel hopeless because they're basing their growth solely on their one effort. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV) says, " All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
Did you see that? God has given us his Word and it will teach us (we can know how to know God by his Word), reprove us (humble us to reveal where we are wrong), correct us (show us the truth so we can honor him) and train us (help us grow in godliness). The Scripture equips us for every good work in this life. Perhaps we could not just see the Bible as a big, overwhelming, old archaic book, but rather see it as the very words of God, given for us to understand the Gospel and grow in godliness so that we can glorify him in what we say and do.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Worship...God's glory or ours?

We talked about worship this week at Encounter Life. It was the third part of our series "Growing in Godliness". As part of the series we've encouraged people to read the Gospel of John. Well today's reading was John 12. The first 8 verses hit me in the heart as I read. Here's what it says:

Six days before the Passover, Jesus therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. Mary therefore took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” He said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it. Jesus said, “Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. For the poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.” (John 12:1-8 ESV)
Many in the church are seeking ways to help the poor and other people in their community. I agree 100% and Encounter Life is consistently seeking ways to do that. This part of the reading challenged me think about why I would want to do that and to check the motives of my heart.

As Mary is pouring out her extravagant gift on the feet of Jesus, Judas is furious that the money is being wasted and he argued that it could have been given to the poor. It's not that Mary was conscience of the poor in her community or that she didn't care. Her heart was to worship Jesus and the result is a testimony that we have 2000 years later of God being glorified, which ultimately points rich and poor toward faith in Christ! It was interesting to me as I read that Jesus acknowledged the reality of poor people among them, but was more honored by the sacrifice as an act of worship toward him.

While I believe giving to others and having a heart of generosity is important, worshiping Christ and bringing glory to Him is essential. Many are serving others for personal gain (whether monetary, perception, fame, etc) not as an act of worship. As believers, we must find a balance in serving others and glorifying God. This can be done by serving others for God's glory not our own. Judas was worried about himself and his own glory, not ensuring that Christ was exalted. My hope for my family, church and friends is that we'll be people who serve others so that God is worshiped and others find life and hope in him!

One practical way we've done that is through a Hygiene Supply Drive we just finished for an elementary school in our area. For our family, we committed to spend money on that instead of using the money for something in our own lives. Our hope and prayer is that through the giving of the supplies, God will open doors for gospel conversations. Perhaps you could comment on how you've seen believers worship Jesus by serving others. Both can happen at the same time and will happen as we pursue Christ. I'm looking forward to hearing about how faith and life have connected as Christ is exalted and people are served.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Here Goes

For about a year I've been thinking about blogging as a way to share more about what I'm thinking on any number of topics related to faith and life. In my own life I'm trying to consistently connect faith and life and my hope is to help others do the same. Faith is not just something to causes us to go to church on Sunday and live separate and isolated lives disconnected from God through the week. Instead, faith should connect to our lives at every point!

Jesus is my only hope and the source of life for me! When I was dead, he gave me life and his call to me is to come and follow him. I cannot do that one hour a week or one day a week. The Gospel transcends everything else in my life and Christ should take priority over everything. My hope is that as I grow in my relationship with God, I will continue to find avenues to connect faith in Christ with every aspect of my life!

Hopefully as you read this blog your heart will be encouraged, Jesus will be celebrated and worshiped and we'll all be faithful to connect faith and life.